#EATEASY with Yvonne Connolly: planning ahead will you take the stress out of Christmas
It’s the season to be jolly – but only by planning ahead will you take the stress out of Christmas. Follow my tips for creating striking table centrepieces, or why not organise a family baking session to ensure the festivities get off to the best possible start!
I really enjoyed being part of Six’s Countdown to Christmas on TV3 this year. It was a fun, live show hosted by Martin King and Muireann O’Connell. I was cooking in the kitchen and whipped up some festive treats for the studio audience. It was a great way to start the build-up to Christmas, my favourite time of year!
CHRISTMAS COOKING TIPS:
HAM: Go all out and boil your ham in 1.5 litres of Coke for subtle sweetness and added colour.
STUFFING: For an extra side of stuffing, line a Pyrex dish with lengths of streaky bacon. Work from the centre and leave half of each length hanging over the edge. Fill with your choice of stuffing, place a few knobs of butter on top and fold over each piece of bacon and cover the stuffing. Cook at 180 degrees for 25 minutes.
ROASTIES: Choose the right fat for cooking roast potatoes. Coconut oil for for crunch or a butter and rapeseed oil mix for great colour. My favourite is duck fat for all over flavour.
FESTIVE TABLE DECOR HACKS:
To make cute and tasty place card stands, pierce a praline with a cocktail stick and glue or tape the name card to the top.
For a beautiful centrepiece, place a tall candle in a glass bowl (wide in diameter but shy of the candle height). Fill the bowl with a festive collection of walnuts, cinnamon sticks, kumquats, dried fruit and cranberries.
Cut a long branch from the back of the Christmas tree and add plaid ribbon. Place on a tartan tablecloth for a striking centrepiece. Alternatively, snip smaller pieces and place on each dinner plate. Sprinkle with icing sugar for a snowy effect.
KITCHEN GIFT GUIDE:
Smarter iKettle 2.0 Wifi Kettle and App, www.expert.ie, €119
Personalised wooden spoons by Auntie Mims, www.notonthehighstreet.com, €4-14
Pudding teapot, M&S, €17
Wusthof Knife Set, €150. My personal favourite from Cooks Academy, and they do vouchers for highly-recommended cooking courses too. Visit cooksacademy.com for details.
MINCE PIES WITH BRANDY:
Plan a family baking session to get everybody in the mood for Christmas, and make meaningful gifts on a budget. Put together gift lists, gather recipes and arrange jars, gift boxes, sweet bags and labels ahead of time to make the experience more enjoyable. Homemade mulled wine, sauces, chutney, cakes, puddings, chocolates, fudge and mince pies make perfect personal gifts. Here’s my favourite recipe for mince pies.
Preheat oven to 110C
Cook time: 3 hours
FOR THE MINCE
400g Bramley apple, cored and chopped 200g shredded suet
200g mixed peel
350g soft dark brown sugar
Grated zest and juice of 2 oranges,
Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
50g flaked almonds
2tbsp mixed spice
1tsp ground cinnamon
1/2tsp ground nutmeg
1. Mix all of the ingredients, except the brandy, in an oven-proof dish. Cover with tin foil and allow to sit overnight.
2. Stir and place in an oven at 110C for 3 hours.
3. When cooled, add brandy and stir well.
FOR THE PIE CASES
Pastry (if not using shop bought):
200g plain flour, sieved
40g castor sugar
50g ground almonds
125g Stork or unsalted butter, diced (cold)
1 large free-range egg beaten (hold some back, mix with 1tsp of water for egg wash).
1. Add all of the ingredients to a food processor (use blade tool).
2. Process until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
3. Slowly add the beaten egg through the feeder tube. You may not need the full egg.
4. Turn mixture out, bring together with your hands then cover in cling film.
5. Allow to rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
6. Remove from fridge and roll out on a floured surface.
7. Use cookie cutters to cut circles for mince pie base.
8. Place in a greased tin of your choice. (If making a larger tart, roll the pastry on to a floured rolling pin to transfer to the tin).
9. Fill with mince meat.
10. Decorate with pastry shapes of your choice.
11. Brush with egg wash and place in a preheated oven 200C for 15-18 minutes.
Allow to cool before turning out.
FOR THE EGG WASH
1 egg / 1tbsp water or milk.
1. Whisk well.
FOR THE BRANDY CREAM
240mls cream (small carton)
25g brown sugar
1. Heat the cream, sugar and brandy in a saucepan over a low heat for five minutes.
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